Wednesday, June 03, 2020

A twist in the tale

So much for novels that appear to have predicted the coronavirus pandemic - what of those set in the present day that were works in progress before it struck and are now having to be substantially rethought and reshaped? The Guardian's Alison Flood has spoken to a host of authors whose best-laid plans have been at least disrupted and at worst thrown into complete disarray.

As Holly Watt notes, there's a real dilemma: "It feels odd to be writing about people hopping on trains or popping to the pub, but focusing on Covid might make it date hideously. But if you don't mention it, it is the massive elephant in the room." Even trying to imagine what life might be like in three months is extremely difficult. Perhaps the easiest way to avoid anachronisms - one being taken by many authors, it seems - is to shift the setting to the recent pre-pandemic past or an alternative present.

An arguably more significant challenge is highlighted by Sarah Vaughan: "I can't make my characters exist without interaction. While, for instance, I can edit out cheek kisses because this may no longer seem the norm, my characters need to meet, to row, to fight, to make love - and in a thriller, to murder. There will be insufficiently little exciting plot, in other words, if they can't interact as they did pre-Covid." In this view, the pandemic is threatening fiction's very machinery, the devices that writers often rely on to create a story.

However, coronavirus is also likely to prove to be a source of literary inspiration. As much as "balcony romance" Love In Lockdown sounds like awful opportunistic tripe, there can be no doubt that the crisis has brought individuals into (socially distanced) contact with others with whom they previously had no interaction, and put ordinary people into unexpected and extraordinary situations. Such is the stuff of fiction.

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